Catholic World News News Feature
Work serves mankind, Pope Benedict says-- not vice versa March 20, 2006
"Work must serve the true good of humanity," and man must not become "enslaved by work," Pope Benedict XVI said in his homily during a Mass for workers on Sunday, March 19.
The Holy Father was principal celebrant of the Mass in St. Peter's Basilica. The annual observance was held on March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, although because that date fell this year on a Sunday in Lent, the feast is celebrated on March 20. The feast has a double meaning for Pope Benedict, because St. Joseph is his patron saint.
In his homily the Pope spoke about the dignity of work, saying that labor "is of primary importance for the fulfillment of mankind and the development of society." But the value of work should always be kept in the proper perspective, he continued. He encouraged laborers to imitate St. Joseph, learning "to sanctify themselves through their work."
In his work, the Pontiff continued, the laborer "is both the subject and protagonist." At a time when working conditions are changing rapidly, he insisted that all workers should be treated with dignity, including those who are unemployed and looking for jobs. He condemned all forms of exploitation of workers, and underlined the importance of just pay and adequate rest-- especially rest on the Sabbath, which is a spiritual as well as physical necessity.
Pope Benedict encouraged Catholics to become acquainted with the social teachings of the Church, which explain in detail the importance of productive labor and the need for social justice in the treatment of workers and the use of economic resources.
The Pope's remarks on Catholic social teaching were noteworthy in the light of reports that the Holy Father is currently working on a new encyclical devoted to that topic. On March 13 the president of the German bishops' conference, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, said that the Pope is writing a social encyclical because "it has become necessary to defend the social economy of the marketplace" in the face of "the arrogance of neoliberalism."
The tradition of Catholic modern social teaching can be traced back to Pope Leo XIII, who wrote the groundbreaking encyclical Rerum Novarum, on the conditions facing labor in the industrial age, in 1891. Forty years later, Pope Pius XI took up the same topic in Quadregesimo Anno, and Pope John Paul II celebrated the 100th anniversary of the encyclical with his own, Centisimus Annus. Other papal encyclicals devoted mainly to the issue of labor include Mater et Magistra (1961), by Pope John XXIII; and Laborem Exercens(/i> (1981), also by Pope John Paul II.